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Local Ingenuity Goes on Display At Electronics Show

Cut the cord.

Tap into the cloud.

Some 2,700 companies, including a selection from San Diego County, displayed some novel and increasingly powerful ways to do those things during the 2011 International CES. The annual consumer electronics show ran Jan. 6-9 in Las Vegas.

Wireless connectivity was a common trait of many items Rory Moore said he saw at the show. Smart phones and tablet computers were only part of the phenomenon, said Moore, chief executive officer of CommNexus San Diego, a telecommunications trade group. Televisions had wireless connections built in, as did stereos, medical devices and even automobiles. Wireless is now a significant part of consumer electronic producers’ “road maps,” Moore said.

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With more connections, machines will increasingly swap information to optimize the consumer experience. Show organizers said smart household appliances made their debut at the 2011 show. LG Electronics, for example, showed off washing machines and refrigerators that can use electricity when rates are at their lowest.

Elsewhere on the show floor, vendors took the wraps off no less than 80 varieties of tablet computers, show producers said. The wave of tablet launches follows the success of Apple Inc.’s iPad.

Bob Slapin, executive director of the San Diego Software Industry Council, said the profusion of wireless devices at the show suggests there is something going on behind the scenes.

New Frontiers in Cloud Computing

“A tablet is not a PC,” Slapin said. A tablet computer needs to tap into outside servers to give it the power and speed that it has. Those outside resources are in “the cloud” — that is, off-site in data centers — and tablets tap into those resources via wireless networks.

Also important, Slapin said, is analytic software that can predict what the tablet user wants to do next.

“The money is in the cloud,” Slapin said.

Slapin pointed to the SnapTax product, which Intuit Inc. introduced last year, as an application that needs a robust cloud behind it. SnapTax lets people fill out their income tax forms on smart phones. The process begins when the user snaps a photo of their W-2 form; the software then integrates the numbers into the tax form. Intuit’s product, incidentally, was not a part of the CES show.

Qualcomm Inc. used the CES show to announce a different way of cutting the cord.

The San Diego company said it signed agreements with Duracell, a unit of Procter & Gamble, and Powermat USA LLC, to develop ways to wirelessly charge cell phones and other battery-powered devices. Working under nonbinding letters of intent, the three companies envision building an industry alliance that sets standards for wireless charging technology.

Powerful Charging Tool

Qualcomm also showed off a technology called WiPower. WiPower uses radio frequencies to transfer energy wirelessly between a transmitter-equipped charging pad and one or more nearby devices. Such technology could one day be available in public places such as airports and coffee shops, Qualcomm said.

Qualcomm reported $10.99 billion in revenue in its last fiscal year, and its stock is traded under the symbol QCOM. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble reported $78.9 billion in revenue in its 2010 fiscal year; its stock symbol is PG. Powermat is based in the Detroit suburb of Commerce Township, Mich., and is privately held.

San Diego-based Novatel Wireless Inc. and partner Verizon Wireless showed off new Novatel hardware that can hook users into Verizon’s extra speedy 4G data service. According to Verizon, 4G can sling data up to 10 times faster than the Verizon 3G service, letting the user download a song in seconds or play videogames with less lag time. The Novatel MiFi Intelligent Mobile Hot Spot can tether up to five Wi-Fi enabled laptops, tablets or gaming devices to the Verizon network. An earlier version of the MiFi product has proven popular, Novatel said, though it did not provide sales figures.

Novatel trades on the Nasdaq as NVTL. It reported $219.7 million in net revenue during the first nine months of 2010, down from $248.8 million in the like period of 2009. Novatel said it plans to release full-year results for 2010 on Feb. 24.

Vista-based Directed Electronics, which offers a line of car alarms and related products, announced at the show that it will go to market with software that sends car GPS data to smart phones. The technology may be particularly attractive to parents who want to locate their driving-age teenagers or keep an eye on their driving habits. (The technology notifies smart phone users when the car has exceeded a certain speed.) A feature involving Facebook will allow software users to easily tell their friends where they have parked. Shares of Directed trade over the counter as DEIX.

Consumer electronics is a $186 billion industry in the United States, said the Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Electronics Association, which owns and produces the Las Vegas trade show.

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